The Boss, somehow 70 years old today, remains a master storyteller on his return to familiar arrangements and themes, Western Stars.
To folks of a certain age, the Boss will forever stand in the red, white, and denim spotlight of Born in the U.S.A. But the fact is, the icon has distinguished himself as a troubadour in everything from anthemic rock to acoustic folk.
The self-expression we probably should have seen coming but didn’t was country.
With Western Stars, Bruce Springsteen’s 19th studio album, the New Jersey-born Springsteen reveals himself ever the master storyteller. The narrative starts before you ever even settle in for a listen, from the evocative cover — a dark horse galloping for the hills under a big blue cloud-filled sky — to the titles of the 13 songs, including “Hitch Hikin’,” “Tucson Train,” “Sleepy Joe’s Cafe,” “Chasin’ Wild Horses,” and “Moonlight Motel.”
Springsteen (or his press machine) characterized the album as “a return to my solo recordings featuring character-driven songs and sweeping, cinematic orchestral arrangements” with songs about “a range of American themes, of highways and desert spaces, of isolation and community and the permanence of home and hope.”
You won’t catch him on tour with this music (he was going to head back into the studio with the E Street Band), but you can catch the “intimate and personal” concert film Western Stars, which was co-directed by Springsteen and Thom Zimny and debuted to critical praise at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this month before wide release in late October.
The documentary film summons both the “mythic and hardscrabble” American West, incorporating archival footage and Springsteen’s personal narration as he performs the whole album backed by a band and full orchestra — under the cathedral ceiling of his almost-century-old barn, no less.
Is the Boss, who turns 70 today (September 23), still rockin’ denim? Heck yeah.
For more information on Bruce Springsteen, visit his website.
Photography: Danny Clinch